Fitzcarraldo bags journalist's 'harrowing' debut about Kabul migrant trail

Fitzcarraldo bags journalist's 'harrowing' debut about Kabul migrant trail

Fitzcarraldo Editions has snapped up Matthieu Aikins' debut book, The Naked Don’t Fear the Water: A Journey Through the Refugee Underground.

Aikins, a journalist who has been based in Kabul, has reported on Afghanistan and the Middle East since 2008. His work of narrative non-fiction charts the undercover journey he made on the migrant trail from the Afghan capital to Europe in 2016.

The synopsis explains: "In 2016, a young Afghan driver and translator named Omar makes the heart-wrenching choice to flee his war-torn country, saying goodbye to Laila, the love of his life, without knowing when they might be reunited again. He is one of millions of refugees who leave their homes that year. Matthieu Aikins, a journalist living in Kabul, decides to follow his friend. In order to do so, he must leave his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail with Omar. 

"Their odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brings them face to face with the people at heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women and children fleeing war in search of a better life. As setbacks and dangers mount for the two friends, Matthieu is also drawn into the escape plans of Omar’s entire family, including Maryam, the matriarch who has fought ferociously for her children’s survival."

Publisher Jacques Testard acquired UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, from Janice Suguitan at Harper in the US. Fitzcarraldo Editions will publish in February 2022, simultaneously with Harper. 

Aikins is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and has won numerous honours, including the George Polk and Livingston awards. He is a past fellow at Type Media Center, New America, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Academy in Berlin. 

Commenting on the acquisition, Testard said: "The Naked Don't Fear the Water is an extraordinary, harrowing, eye-opening book, which, over the course of a year, sees Matthieu and Omar trek through the deserts of Nimroz, cross the Mediterranean on a rubber boat, spend three weeks at Moria camp on Lesbos, and live in a migrant squat in Exarchia, Athens. This book is an exceptional piece of reportage, but also a broader meditation on borders, the condition of the migrant, and the root causes of the migrant crisis. I am thrilled to be welcoming Matthieu Aikins to Fitzcarraldo Editions."

Aikins said: "When I returned to Afghanistan this summer after five years spent working on this book, I did not expect to find the country in such a similar moment: foreign troops leaving, provincial capitals falling, and a wave of displaced departing for Europe. As I witness today's painful events here in Kabul, I hope that Afghan refugees will be met with more compassion than they have been in the past."